Architecture schools are out of touch, he tells Oxford Conference

Sunand Prasad
“This is not about practice versus education, it is just wrong”

Sunand Prasad

Architecture schools are out of touch with the real world and must transform their curriculums to cover practical issues such as cost and climate change, RIBA president Sunand Prasad told the Oxford Conference this week.

Fifty years after the first Oxford Conference — which made architectural education more theoretical to raise the calibre of entrants — Prasad called for a U-turn and said he was “genuinely puzzled” architecture schools did not incorporate significant construction programmes such as Building Schools for the Future in courses.

Speaking on Tuesday morning to a packed audience at Oxford University, he found himself an unlikely ally of the Prince of Wales, who claimed the UK was “living with the consequences” of mistakes made at the 1958 conference.

Prasad said: “It is perfectly possible to go through five years of architectural education without ever having to design something which is within restricted means or limits, up to a budget or cost, which is normal life.

“This is intellectual dereliction to my mind. This is not about practice versus education, it is just wrong. We are about to build a school a day for the next 13 years. I don’t yet see any kind of examination in schools of architecture about what education and school children might need, and what the 21st century might bring to the making of schools… it’s a puzzle.”

Prasad said he was happy with “huge swathes” of what was being taught, but above all education had to cover tackling global warming.

Echoing Prasad, the chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation Hank Dittmar said in a speech on behalf of Prince Charles: “How many untested design theories have been put into practice over the last half century — machines for living in, functional zoning, the “city of towers” in parkland, the segregation of cars from pedestrians?

“I assume… the organisers of this conference recognise that the last 50 years have not been all that kind to architects.”

Delegate Robert Adam called Prasad’s comments courageous and “very significant”, adding: “Schools need to wake up… they are out of touch and have gone off in a direction that actually threatens the profession.”

But Strathclyde University professor of architecture Gordon Murray said: “We can’t teach absolutely everything. The profession all too often thinks that the panacea for the ills of the profession lies with the schools of architecture and I don’t accept that.”